On Selling

I couldn’t put my finger on it, but for a long time I have been uneasy about the selling discussion’s direction as it relates to CRM and SFA. Something didn’t relate. We talk a lot about accelerating the sales process and freeing up sales people’s time so that they can spend more time selling, but it all made me wonder.

Several things occurred to me as I contemplated selling — a job I did for about 15 years with some success as well as failure. One of the reasons I became an analyst was my fascination with selling and a desire to make it, if not more perfect, then at least more predictable.

The Elusive Sales Accelerant

The first thing I concluded was that we haven’t been able to accelerate the sales process in many decades, and in some ways acceleration is a pipe dream. If your sales model is face-to-face selling, then — by definition — sales people have to be in synchronous moments with customers in order to accelerate the process.

Asynchronous communications via fax, email, social media, or whatever is next won’t accelerate anything, because a customer can take as long as needed to reply. Discounting is a great accelerant — but who wants that? Discounting is a retail model, and that’s not the same.

Only if the response is immediate can you aspire to acceleration. Also, regardless of any sales effort, customers always will take their time evaluating offers. The last technology that enabled sellers to be present with buyers was the car. Everything else is filling a channel with a stream of offers and entreaties that often involve some kind of discounting.

When Not Selling Is Selling

The other thing that I concluded was that the time sales reps spend not directly in front of customers is valuable too. and it should be regarded as such. I even believe that time is selling. Let me explain. I take the view that everything a sales rep does during work hours to promote products and pursue sales is selling.

Selling means having customer meetings, but it also means preparing for them. Today, it also means more than calling on the boss — it means building consensus among the lieutenants and users about a course of action leading to a purchase decision.

That easily can mean more meetings, note taking, corralling resources, demos, discussions, arranging reference calls, research, proposal writing, and number crunching to prove ROI. All that happens away from the customer, and while there are good apps in most areas today, such as CPQ, the time it takes to use all that stuff is not zero.

In fact, the proliferation of tools to do this increasingly difficult job only eats into face time — but that’s not a bad thing, because customers expect a rep to be prepared when a meeting occurs.

I suggest that we consider the time not spent in front of customers as selling. It requires a great deal more organization and discipline than most sales people would dedicate to the job in the pre-CRM days.

Everyone’s a Subscriber

Another reason to expand our concept of selling is the subscription. We’re all subscribers today, and our businesses increasingly are finding ways to sell subscriptions to customers. Selling subscriptions is tricky. It is the most advanced area of selling today because it involves whole relationships rather than one-time transactions — and ironically, because the revenue is just a trickle.

Subscription businesses sell all the time, because they are always trying to fight attrition and churn — the twin tendencies for customers to seek alternatives.

This also means that everyone in a subscription company is selling to some degree, which can expand greatly the notion of selling to the point where all of CRM can be seen as a sales tool. Or a marketing tool. Or a service tool.

The rep might get the deal, but everyone on the delivery side is responsible for keeping the customer, and in many cases at least suggesting the cross-sell or upsell. This raises an interesting point: We’re all responsible for the customer.

As we move deeper into the subscription culture, we are increasing selling time not through a single- person bottleneck, but by bringing in specialists like customer success managers to ensure that customers remain in the group as content and bonded subscribers. That being the case, we need to reconsider motivation and incentives.

The instinct to increase selling time might be on target, but the idea that all of that has to go through a single entity called the “sales rep” may no longer be right. We’re increasing selling time because the whole business is in front of the customer, and that calls for continuous improvements to CRM and the processes it supports.

Denis Pombriant

Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry researcher, writer and speaker. His new book, Solve for the Customer, is now available on Amazon. He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on Google+.

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